Table Etiquette, Manners

oldbat2beJuly 9, 2013

Dilly_NY's thread on gravy boats has made me think about this subject. Due to my father, a stickler for manners and correct speech, I have certain (mostly good) habits hard-wired. I wonder, though, what I will pass on to my kids (16 and 14), due to our chaotic, sports-filled lives. Growing up, we were forced (you can see how I felt about it) to bring a topic of conversation to the table each night. Now, it doesn't look quite as bad.

What is important to you regarding manners and table etiquette? I'd love to see links to resources you've found helpful.

Thanks! oldbat2be

This post was edited by oldbat2be on Wed, Jul 10, 13 at 0:35

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I was brought up with manners being very important, from how to set the table, napkins in the lap, etc. and tried to impart that to my boys, to whom sports was the most important thing... I can remember my mother telling me "you need to learn your manners in case you're invited to the White House", lol! When my youngest son got custody of his three children and moved in with us (for five years!), I was horrified at their lack of manners, and tried, in a fun way, to teach them a little of what I had learned. Don't know if any of it stuck, but they certainly added to my life and for that I'm grateful.

To me, it's too bad that manners just don't seem to be that important any more...maybe it was put on us too much, but sure can't see where it does any harm to live in this world in a pleasant way.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 12:29AM
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I think good manners are most definitely important...what if you had gone to the White House? :)

Seriously, there have been times I've been in social situations, where it's been a very good thing my mom took the time to teach us manners and 'table etiquette'. It also helped me get some jobs in very nice restaurants, when I was in school.

As my grandmother used to say...You never know what life has in store for you. It's easier to fit into a social situation, when you're confident in your abilities. Not all events will be china and crystal, but they won't be all paper plates and napkins, either :)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 1:20AM
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Growing up, I was always taught to be polite. I don't think anyone would have let bad manners slide at the table, or anywhere else for that matter. Please, thank you, excuse me were demanded. Reaching over someone to grab a plate or elbows on the table would get an ear full. At my great-grandparents home, the children were not to speak unless spoken to. "Children are meant to be seen and not heard".

We were also taught to be polite to everyone we spoke to, open doors, help carry or reach something for anyone. Those were instilled in me from an early age, and something I still do at every opportunity. I expect my children to do the same. Although young, they are expected to say please and thank you. Speak quietly at the table and not interrupt the adults conversations. Doing so will get you removed from the table. They eat what I fix or go to bed hungry. It seems to only take once or twice per child to realize that it's easier just to eat. They say please and thank you, and I feel that they are far more polite than many children their own age. For example, a few weeks ago we made a trip to the grocery and were gone longer than expected, so we stopped by McDonald's to grab a few drinks and play in the indoor air conditioned play place. One little boy came in the room, pushed me out of the way, and told me to move my butt. His mom just laughed. If that would have been my child, there wouldn't have been any laughing from me, and harsh consequences to be had. This boy was close in age to my oldest, probably 7-8. I cringe at the thought of parents allowing children to behave that way. I probably would have said something to the mother had she not been laughing, but she probably would have said the same thing.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 2:01AM
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Manners are most definitely still important. And, I wholeheartedly agree with Lavender's grandma that life is easier to navigate if when it throws you a curve you can rest assured you know how to behave appropriately.
Just I teach my children to read and to have a good work ethic because I want them to be successful individuals, I teach them to hold a fork properly, sit up straight, dont talk with food in your mouth and not to mumble.
Just yesterday my son came home from a bike ride with the news that he had gotten a job. He went up to the new owner of a litte market in the village, introduced himself, said congratulations and wished him good fortune. The owner asked him if he was old enough to have working papers, my son said not until fall and the owner said come back then, you're hired! Manners get noticed.
MrsMM I do not know how you held your tongue with that little boy. I doubt I would have been able to and I think my 14YO would have advised him not to speak to his mother so rudely and to be respectful. But then again I have been known to send my kids back outside the movie theatre for 'practice' because I noticed they didn't hold the door open for the next guest.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 7:07AM
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Circus Peanut

Do not begin to eat until the hostess has seated herself and picked up her fork.
Absolutely iron-clad rule learned from my parents that, as an adult, I was surprised to find quite rare out in the real world.

This post was edited by circuspeanut on Wed, Jul 10, 13 at 7:22

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 7:21AM
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Any manners seem rare these days. I know it was the dark ages, but in a public elementary school, in a very large metropolitan area, we were not allowed to use a spoon to eat our peas!!

I suppose it is our rushed lives, but it seems few people remember how to use a knife and fork. They just pick up a hunk of meat and gnaw on it.....maybe it's the Paleo diet.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 7:42AM
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I think just sitting down to dinner is important, and many people don't seem to do it anymore. My teenage son was complemented by someone I work with when we were eating a very casual lunch in an outdoor eating area (tables outside a mall area overlooking the water). He was very impressed when my son got up and excused himself from the table to take a phone call. He asked if we taught him that, and we did, but we taught him that by showing him good table manners. We don't take calls at the table at home, or if we feel it's important we get up and leave the table.

Many kids today use their phones at the table constantly and don't even seem to know how to hold a conversation. The etiquette list is changing but good manners are always important!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 9:06AM
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With a very "eclectic" range of friends and acquaintances, I'm pretty eclectic in viewpoint, accepting various ways as appropriate...enough. My generally good natured DIL was nicely raised and has very firm opinions on how one should handle silverware. SHE would never, ever pick up her fork before her hostess did. My own sticking point is simple politeness, and I don't mean at what point the napkin is set in the lap.

What never comes across as acceptable at any point on the social scale, for instance, is people taking calls at table. Unless for good reason, and they excuse themselves, leave, and RETURN. Yes, my standards ARE extremely low, but I have seen hosts and hostesses take casual entertaining just a tad too far by leaving and not bothering to return to table, for some while or ever. Believe it or not. Mercifully, our son did not marry one of them.

People, except children too young to participate in conversation, leaving the table early, while the meal/social interaction is still in progress.

Children allowed to continue behaving badly at table (some leeway in defining this) and/or to leave the table without excusing themselves to the others. Obviously, the most basic and minimal manners in children score real points with me, and I'm absolutely enthralled with any who have been taught to contribute pleasantly to conversation. Actually, the same goes for adults. :)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 9:17AM
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We grew up with 'basic' table manners : napkin in your lap, elbows off the table, please and thank you, ask for dishes to be passed instead of standing and grabbing, ask to be excused from the table if you finish before everyone else, take your dirty dishes with you to the kitchen when you leave the table. We didn't have to eat something we didn't like, but we could not make comments at the table about it (no "yuck, I hate broccoli" or "this looks gross" allowed).

We also ate meals at a table, not at a counter, while watching TV, at the desk, etc. We were allowed to eat only at the dining table or kitchen table, except for an occasional bowl of popcorn in front of the TV.

Even as we kids got older and schedules busier - two full-time working parents, three kids with after-school activities - there was a hot dinner served in the early evening, and everyone was expected to serve themselves and sit down at the table to eat together.

My parents didn't take us to restaurants until we reached an age when we could sit through a meal, so maybe six years old? Those first restaurants were casual places, like pizza or a takeout Chinese place that also had table seating. We upgraded to white-tablecloth restaurants when we were 9 or 10, and were taught how to act in a restaurant (voices down, how to read a menu and order, no getting up from the table except for restroom use).

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 9:25AM
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I admit, I'm not as acquainted with etiquette as some others. There are some rules, like how to eat a roll, I didn't know until recently.

That said, basic manners are important in our house. We always sit at the table for dinner, TV is put on a music channel, and we don't start eating until everyone is seated. We have conversation, but no talking while food is in your mouth! Chew with your mouth closed and SWALLOW your food before taking another bite. We don't answer the phone during our meal, either. My kids are 9,8, & 5 so they don't have cell phones. The one rule my 5 yr old chafes against is staying at the table until everyone is finished. Too bad, lol!

This brings to mind a time we took the kids for a special lunch at Rainforest Cafe. The older two had reading achievements that we were celebrating (youngest wasn't in school, yet) and I noticed a family across from us. The mom was eating her meal in silence because her husband and two kids were on their phones the entire time. No interaction with each other throughout the meal. I felt bad for her and noticed her watching us eating, laughing and having a good time together while she was basically ignored.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 10:01AM
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Does anyone have a good relevant reference that I could share with my girls? They are still young (5 and 7) and we have a sit down meal with cloth napkins most nights of the week. I am very proud of their good choices and use of good manners most of the time, but if I don't teach them the finer etiquette details, then who will?

It has been a looooong time since my Debutante season and I will freely admit to eating pizza more frequently than five course meals :)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 11:30AM
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A number of years ago I taught middle school at a private school. In the spring I would take the 6th graders to the school camp run by the county, a marvelous learning experience. For some reason we were often there the same week that a large school from the poorest part of the county was there. Meals were enlightening. My kids came from highly priviledged homes. The other kids came from low wealth homes. How were their table manners, you ask? You could tell who regularly ate dinner with their parents at a table, high or low wealth. Some of my kids were barbarians, some could have attended ambassadorial soirees. Some of the other kids were barbarians, some could have covered themselves in glory in any restaurant in town. It all comes down to what they are taught at home, and that teaching comes best from example, and pretty much requires that children eat at the table with their parents. I discretely asked, and it turned out some of my kids mostly had dinner by themselves in their rooms in front of the TV - wonderfully nutritious dinner served by the staff, but alone.

Table manners matter. Out-and-about manners matter. A 4 year old who can say please and thank you and ask permission is a delight and will be forgiven other transgressions (like throwing a hissy fit in public - yikes!). The best way to teach is by example.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Kids eating alone - how sad! We generally have dinner as a family.

Of course manners count. I love Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners. She is very smart and funny with it. Also realistic. You can find her books in public libraries, and I'm sure they have sections on raising children to have good manners.

I had the opportunity to hear her speak this year. She is just as gracious, poised, intelligent and witty in person as you would expect.

My DD learned to shake hands at an early age, and it was always impressive to adults when she would say "nice to meet you" or "how do you do" and hold out her hand. Technically, I think that's incorrect, because the higher status person (the older one in this case) should initiate the handshake. But adults were never offended, just tickled. DD's friends have nice manners, too. All is not lost!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 1:35PM
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Holly- Kay

I am so glad to see this post. My mother was a stickler for manners. All adults were called Mr or Mrs and their sur name, never, ever by a first name even if the adult requested that they be called by their given name. We would have been briskly chastised if our manners lagged.

When my children were young we instilled manners into them by setting the example for them as well.They were never allowed to cash a check or buy anything with birthday money until an appropriate thank you note was written and mailed. I often received handwritten thank you notes from my children for a freshly made bed or an exceptionally yummy treat. I stll have all those dear notes from them.

When we vacation we go to nice restaurants. The first time our DGS accompanied us my Dh took them aside and explained that we were going to a "big boy's restaurant" and that they needed to use their manners. Both boys were wonderful and enjoyed the meal and their Shirley Temples. Several months ago DH and I took the boys to the movies and stopped at Chick-Fil-A for lunch. My oldest grandson ordered very nicely and when the order taker asked what he would like to drink he said "I would like a Shirley Temple please". What a precious memory that is for us.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 4:17PM
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I have a Shirley Temple story, too. DD always loved them, and we explained to her that they could usually only make them at places that have a bar, since bars have the necessary cherries. When DD was about 6 or 7, a waitress asked her what she'd like to drink, and DD asked "Do you have a bar?"

The look on the waitress's face was priceless.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 5:39PM
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Perhaps I am too young, but what most of you mention are what I consider as simple politeness that should be shown toward all people, but then other rules are what I consider as formalities, reminiscent of a time when most countries had an aristocratic class. I don't care for cloth napkins or using proper forks for proper courses. That's just silliness. When I entertain, I don't want to sit stiffly in a chair with napkin on my lap and ask about the weather in XX place. That's reserved for business lunches. I am an avid cook, I lay out huge amount of food. I want people to focus on the food, enjoy themselves, and sit/stand where ever they please.

This post was edited by lilymila on Wed, Jul 10, 13 at 18:34

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 6:07PM
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I think manners are sorely missing today. I can't count the number of times I have held the door for someone and they breeze on through without so much as a howdy I'm the doorman!

Recently my husband and I went to brunch. A couple in their 20's sat down directly in my site line. They were both texting the entire time. The only time they spoke was when they gave the waitress their order. Honestly! I joked to my husband that they were probably texting their conversation instead of actually speaking to each other!

Road manners have gone the way of the Model T. It's all about "me first."

Never much consideration for the other person which is how I was's sad to see such a decline in civility.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 6:45PM
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I'm really enjoying reading everyone's responses. Hope you all keep them coming!

The stories bring back a lot of memories. My MIL grew up being asked "Now would you do that at the table if Eleanor Roosevelt were coming to dinner?" Ginny20, love your Shirley Temple story. Meyersdvm, you said it perfectly: if I don't teach them the finer etiquette details, then who will? I worry about what I've forgotten over the years.

Here is a link that might be useful: Emily Post Dining Etiquette

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 7:25AM
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Meyersdvm, you and your children might enjoy reading and discussing Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You Book or the books about the Goops (and how not to be them), linked to Amazon below. : )

Here is a link that might be useful: Goops Books

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:22AM
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ok -- here is something that is getting on my nerves.
Whenever we are at a restaurant with my SIL and my kids (11 and 13), she is correcting them as far as please and thank you.

For example, the waitress says "what would you like to drink?" . My kid says "I'll will have coke." My sister-in-law throws in a "please." Mind you my kids will always say thank you when they get their food -- but is it necessary to add "please" to the end of every sentence when asked a question?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:33AM
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Ginny, your Shirley Temple story made me laugh out loud.

Thank you. :)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 10:20AM
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Holly- Kay

Great Shiley Temple story Ginny. I would have loved to be a little mouse during that exchange.

Stir fry, I do think it is important to say please even when asked the question. One little word won't hurt the child saying it and the person hearing it may just need a boost in spirits that day. With that being said I don't think it is SIL place to point it out, you should be doing it. I am sure you have more weight with your children than SIL.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 11:23AM
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We are pretty good with the table manners - we sit down together at least 3 times a week and eat a civilized meal. For a while there, we had an a to z manners book we got on amazon, and we would cover a new manner every dinnertime, which was fun and brought up a lot of good manner-centric conversation. That said, we aren't perfect and it's something we work on regularly.

We are in the south, and one thing here that I find so odd...the focus on "ma'am" and "sir". We have several friends that enforce rules that require kids to use these with adults, and IMHO I find it antiquated. It's not OK to say "yes" or "no" in answer to a question, it must be "yes, ma'am." I was raised here too, but my parents never asked us to do this. It's super duper Southern.

When my kids do it, they sound like they're being smart@sses, so I'm not a fan!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 12:03PM
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My Gma was a stickler for table etiquette, so you can be sure that my sibs and I knew how to behave and which fork to use. At home we dined casually most of the time, but basic manners were expected. Now I'm the grown-up, and we have a family dinner at the table (or sometimes island, now that we have one with seating) every night. Though we dine casually, we've taught our kids manners, but the lessons have stuck with only 3 of the 4. How does that happen?!

Ginny, I did LOL at your Shirley Temple story!! :)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 12:43PM
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ok -- here is something that is getting on my nerves.
Whenever we are at a restaurant with my SIL and my kids (11 and 13), she is correcting them as far as please and thank you.
For example, the waitress says "what would you like to drink?" . My kid says "I'll will have coke." My sister-in-law throws in a "please." Mind you my kids will always say thank you when they get their food -- but is it necessary to add "please" to the end of every sentence when asked a question?

If someone is getting something for you, yes. Just my opinion.

As an aunt, I'm guilty of this with my nephew and nieces, age range 2-12. Without the "please", it sounds demanding. Especially when it's a child requesting something from an adult - "pass the salt" (or "I want a Coke") is abrasive and gimme-gimme, as though the child is ordering the adult around. To my ear, "please pass the salt" or "may I have the salt, please" is more gracious and respectful. Subtract the "please" and you lose the respect.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 2:38PM
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I agree, Zeebee.

When I moved to the rural South I was surprised but charmed to become "Miss Rosie" to not only many adults of a traditional bent but also almost all children as this courtesy is standard when addressing an adult. Now it would seem quite strange if one of the neighborhood children just called me Rosie, which all the kids back in California did.

BTW, back in California "Ma'am" usually sounded insincerely respectful from those employees required to use it for customers, even sometimes coming across as a passive-aggressive way of getting away with being impolite. It's not standard there for interactions among equals, especially for young people, most of whom never used it until required by an employer, and to my ear they seldom carried it off. Here in the South it's used everywhere by everyone and always sounds gracious and appropriate. A quite profound cultural difference underlies this, but that's for another forum. :)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 4:10PM
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Nice thread, I'm running late, so I'll just add one rule from my dearly departed mil...

"we shall not discuss rodents at the table".

gotta go.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 4:21PM
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A "please " is always nice but not necessary in every situation, especially if your tone is polite.

Speaking of Shirley Temples....when I was growing up, girls ordered a Shirley Temple, boys ordered a Roy Rogers ...same drink! Lol..

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 6:46PM
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Holly- Kay

Ahhh Joanie, thanks for that tidbit. I never heard of boys calling the drink a Roy Rogers but I like it!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:02PM
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Bee, that cracks me up!

This evening I had to tell my 5 yr old that we don't discuss mummification during meals. It was getting icky fast.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:08PM
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I remember my Mother taking me along for visits to a neighbor or friend of hers and I was always coached to say 'no, thank you' if I was offered, oh a coca cola or something equally wonderful (which we never had, rot yer teeth and all that). Only, if they offered twice would she relent and let me say "yes, please". My sister swears it's a Minnesota Methodist thing. Not sure on that. My Father and Mother would take all 5 of us to a nice restaurant when we were young so we could dress up and learn to act like ladies and gentlemen... my brothers were expected to pull out the chairs and hold the doors, napkins in the lap and the whole bit. "Civilizing the savages" is what my dear old Dad called it. And no one was ever, ever allowed to leave the dinner table before everyone was done eating their dinner. You could get kicked away from the table with NO dinner for messing around (my poor sister) but no leaving until all were done. I have to say when I first met my DH, I was mortified when he wolfed his food and got up and left me at the table. Raised by wolves, that one.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:20PM
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"...but the lessons have stuck with only 3 of the 4. How does that happen?! "

Good question! My DD has been out of her high chair for over 17 years now, and it seems that EVERY night at supper time I still have to remind her to sit straight on her chair with her feet on the floor.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 8:44PM
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The "Shirley Temple" story is priceless. Our late in life surprise baby ate out with DH and I often as a youngster. Manners were emphasized from toddler to Cotillion. When she was three, on vacation with my mother, she asked her Grandma, "Does the restaurant where we are going have ballets?" Puzzled my mother said, "What is that?" It is men who open the car doors with a a swing and a bow." Inside, she surprised her Gram again by asking, "Is this the drink waiter or the food waiter asking what we want to order."

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 11:12PM
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These last few posts are my best laughs for the day. Definitely better late than never. Thanks.

BTW, Beekeeperswife, our whole local family is very opinionated and has robust stomachs, and at one point when a friend was dining with us the conversation become...over-animated and I finally noticed that we had strayed well off the path. "We do not discuss rodents...." Someone in our family needs to adopt that, and I guess as the only MIL still around I should try to add that one to my legacy.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 4:36PM
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LOL! Love the Shirley Temple story :)

When I was living in the South, Shirley Temples were 7-up and grenadine (with the cherry) and Roy Rogers had Coke, rather than 7-up. Maybe because the 7-up made the Shirley Temple pink?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:50PM
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Oops! I know someone will point this out (LOL)

The grenadine makes the Shirley Temple pink :)

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:52PM
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For those asking for an etiquette resource for kids, we used a book entitled "365 Manners Kids Should Know--Games, Activities and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette" by Sheryl Eberly. There are some things that are a little over the top, but it also has many etiquette tips that everyone should know.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 10:00PM
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